My View: Low Turnout a Sign of the State of Democracy, State of Our Community

direct-democracyDan Walters notes in his Sacramento Bee column today that the primary this year promises to “be a particularly lackluster one” in terms of voter turnout. He calls this year’s primary “a perfect storm of depressed voting.”

We agree – with the lack of a Presidential primary, a lack of a Senate race on the ballot, Governor Brown heading for a landslide November victory, and not even a lot of hot ballot-measures.

Mechanics of the race aside, the political climate breeds apathy. And why not? In 2008, we had just plunged into the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the nation looked to hope and change and found Barack Obama, the first African-American president.

But while President Obama put together enough votes in 2012 to win reelection, whatever your thoughts on the Obama Presidency, the national climate is in many ways far worse than it was in 2008. The nation is practically paralyzed in partisan gridlock.   Under such conditions, why would someone be hopeful that change would originate through the federal government?

Earlier this month, candidate Daniel Parrella summed things up from a local perspective, “In my mind the biggest problem facing the city is public trust. As I’ve been walking precincts no one trusts the government. No one expects them to spend their tax dollars wisely. No one expects them to maintain the roads. No one expects us to fix the greenbelts. Everyone expects the city to continue to grow more expensive.”

Coming from a different perspective, Michael Harrington wrote on Sunday, “Now the No on P cadre are out telling people that yes, the rates are a mess, but don’t vote YES on P to force the City to repeal this package and adopt new, more fair, more understandable rates.  The latest story is to vote NO on P, and trust the City to go ahead and voluntarily fix them.   Agree with the No on P committee?  Then I have some great seafront property to sell you about twenty miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge.”

He is telling voters, we do not trust the city to go ahead and fix the rates, we have to force them to.

When I first started covering the city of Davis, the 2006 city council campaign had voters engaged. We had seen the contentious Measure X campaign, the soon-to-be contentious Target Campaign.

But, somewhere along the way, the public became disengaged. Many seemed to have woken up to find that the city had not been well-tended. The city had raised salaries and compensation levels to unsustainable levels, engaged in a bait and switch efforts from 2008 to 2010 attempting to balance the budget with a minimalist approach and ended up sinking the city in a red sea of unfunded liabilities and deferred maintenance.

Is there a revolt underway? It doesn’t seem like it. John Munn is the closest thing to a protest candidate and he may yet win, but it will be not because of a rising tide of anger, but rather a falling tide of apathy that enables him to squeak.

The city is facing a fiscal crisis for sure, but in the wake of it, what are people doing?

In the last six months, the council, with two members running for State Assembly, has achieved almost nothing. One thing that did happen is that the city manager took another position, creating yet another leadership void that has only grown worse.

The city sits on an immense opportunity to take advantage of UC Davis’ commitment to research. Last June, public process issues doomed a proposed innovation park. In the last six months, we have seen ideas come forward for other locations for an innovation park, but the effort is flagging. In a way that embodies the paralysis we face, the Innovation Park Task Force twice was canceled due to lack of a quorum.

A proposal for an RFEI was delayed because council took nearly four hours to debate connectivity issues on a development approved nearly six months prior. A county supervisor delayed matters potentially further because he did not feel he was getting enough play.

In the meantime, the biggest investment from UC Davis in our lifetimes – the World Food Center – may slip out of our hands.

Finally, efforts to improve the water rate structure of a project approved 15 months ago may aid the flagging Measure P campaign by showing the voters there are some flaws in the current rate structure.

It is time for Davis to step up. We are facing huge hurdles but also have huge opportunities. Unfortunately, the city manager picked the worst possible time to leave for another job and two key members on the council picked the worst possible time to run for higher office.

If you still have any wonder why people are reluctant to vote, look no further than that Assembly campaign. We have real challenges and opportunities facing us and yet, outsiders to our district are pumping us full of lies and innuendo.

The Opportunity PAC first tries to sell us that Bill Dodd voted for a pay increase while increasing taxes – it turns out that the pay increase was simply mandated by law when the judges received their salary increase and the taxes was a swap of one expired tax for a new tax at the same rate.

Then we have Dan Wolk attack as a flip-flopper on four issues that bore no resemblance to reality.

Now Bill Dodd is being accused of making a decision on the faulty Bay Bridge bolts that CalTrans blundered on.

The funniest thing is Dan Wolk’s statement that “it is critically important to look behind these groups and follow their money and their motivations. Those supporting me are funded by teachers, nurses and firefighters” – as though that were some kind of defense for the smear campaign being waged in Dan Wolk’s otherwise good name.

We wonder why people don’t want to vote? Maybe we should really be marveling at the fact that, despite this, millions of people do vote in this country every election and somehow, despite ourselves, this nation remains great.

That said, I have spent a lot of time on this site calling out local government for their deficiencies, but now it is time to turn to the citizens of this community and say, it is time to wake up. There is no excuse for your non-involvement and there is less excuse for you to act surprised at the state of affairs when you have not been engaged from the start.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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5 Comments

  1. Frankly

    First question, is there a better model anywhere? If ours is not good enough, then where should we look for examples of improvement?

    Second…I think the left’s continued benefit of labor unions and Democrat blocking of voter ID to prevent voter fraud contribute to a level of disenfranchised voters. There is a sense that the system is rigged and that a vote does not really matter if unions can buy politicians and any unauthorized person gets to vote.

    1. Davis Progressive

      i find it funny the expression that the perfect is the enemy of the good. the reverse is more often truth – the good is often the enemy of the better. let us suppose that there isn’t a metter model anywhere – does that preclude us from trying to improve upon it? isn’t that what our founders did? they didn’t find a better model so they invented one … in order to form a more perfect union.

  2. DurantFan

    For myself, I feel that the aphorism “The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen” applies within Davis. The annual coordination, planning, and fund-raising “Cap to Cap ” trips to Washington D.C. proudly made by the City Council and local support staff “feed into” this perspective. Money, money, money!

    A second, major turn-off for me as a voter continues to be the Crown Castle “debacle” that occurred during the first six months of 2012. Back then, an extensive cell-phone Distributed Antenna System (DAS) of 25 cell-phone antennae was backed into the City proper over the strong objections of a majority of Davis Citizens. Under threat of a lawsuit from Crown Castle staff (including Attorney Jonathan L. Kramer) and Federal Communication Commission (FCC) dictates, the existing City Council “crumbled”! As a result, the following Principles of Community were violated: (1) neighbors were pitted against neighbors concerning the siting of the antennae throughout the City; (2) Davis citizens were forbidden to comment about the adverse health aspects of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) pursuant to the installation of the antennae adjacent to or near individual residences; and, (3) the long-standing Telecommunications Ordinance of the City (requiring a 500 foot setback of cell phone antennae from homes) was summarily “dismissed.”

    The rights and values of the citizens of Davis were certainly not respected or protected during this tyrannical process , and the result reflects negatively on the seated City Council of that period. Once again, “The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen!”

    1. Frankly

      Most of what you are complaining about is covered in Federal statutes.

      And I don’t think “the majority” of Davisites objected to the installation of 25 utility poles.

      Do you use a cell phone?

  3. DavisBurns

    Since i do vote as does my husband and one daughter and we really study the issues, I’d like to offer my services as a surrogate voter. Don’t know who to vote for? Issues boring? Issues too complicated? I’ll pick up your absentee ballots, fill em out and mail em for you. No muss no fuss. We hire service people to do everything else. We could have designated voters kinda like designated drivers. In this age of specialization, it’s bound to happen if people won’t do it for themselves someone will fill the void.

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